Curran's Pats-Bills Preview: Will we see an upset ... or Stidham? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
When the schedule makers and TV people got together and laid out the 2020 plan, the imagined scenario for Bills-Patriots on MNF in Week 16 was that the two teams would be in a slapfight for the AFC East title.
As it turns out the Patriots are 6-8, the Bills are 11-3 and the flip in their fortunes doesn’t figure to be a blip on the radar screen.
The Bills have wrested control of the AFC East from the Patriots. Is this Monday night game a chance to lord it over them? Buffalo’s won four straight including a 48-19 blowout of the Broncos in its last game.
When the Patriots Have the Ball
The Patriots haven’t scored a touchdown the past two weeks. Five field goals in games against the Rams and Dolphins. That’s it. And the game prior, the 45-0 blasting of the Chargers? That was jump-started by an opening-drive touchdown that Cam Newton figured prominently in with his legs.
But it wasn’t offense that put the game out of reach. It was that AND a heavy dose of defense and special teams. The week before that, they were not good against the Cardinals. You have to go back to the Texans game for an instance where the Patriots played like an NFL offense, circa 2020.
Newton will be rolled out there again against the Bills. You really have to squint, tilt your head and use your imagination with all your might to see how another week of a guy who can’t throw is “what’s best for the football team.”
Damien Harris and Newton both had success running against the Bills in the first matchup. If Newton’s getting the nod, that would figure to be the plan again.
When the Bills Have the Ball
The Patriots have allowed 436 yards on the ground in their past two games. When they faced the Bills the first time, they gave up 190 (a week after giving up 197 to the Niners).
In that first meeting, Devin Singletary and Zack Moss each ran 14 times for 86 and 81 yards respectively. Josh Allen barely had to throw, going 11 for 18 for 154 – 92 of those yards to Stefon Diggs.
This week, Diggs won’t have to deal with the injured Stephon Gilmore so he’ll be the focal point again. Diggs has 111 catches for 1,314 yards and five scores. Cole Beasley has 79 catches for 950 yards and four scores. Allen’s run for eight touchdowns and 383 yards and has thrown for 4,000 on the button.
After getting shown up the past two weeks on the ground, how well the Patriots respond defensively in this one is a real measure of the continued buy-in during this grueling season.
The Kicking Game
Bills kicker Tyler Bass is 27 of 33 on field goals and punter Corey Bojorquez has a 50.1 gross punting average. Returner Andre Roberts has been productive on both punts (10.0 average) and kickoff returns (29.4).
Give the Patriots the edge narrowly with Nick Folk and Jake Bailey in terms of consistency and coverage skills.
Patriots Medical Report
OUT: TE Jordan Thomas (not injury related).
QUESTIONABLE: Center David Andrews (calf), linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (shoulder), defensive lineman Tawshawn Bower (ankle), defensive lineman Adam Butler (shoulder), linebacker Shilique Calhoun (knee), long snapper Joe Cardona (ankle), defensive lineman Byron Cowart (back), tackle Jermaine Eluemunor (ankle), kicker Nick Folk (back), defensive lineman Lawrence Guy (shoulder), running back Damien Harris, offensive lineman Justin Herron (ankle), cornerback J.C. Jackson (knee), linebacker Anfernee Jennings (shoulder), cornerback Jonathan Jones (neck), guard Shaq Mason (calf), wide receiver Donte Moncrief (thigh), defensive end John Simon (hamstring), wide receiver Matthew Slater (knee), and running back J.J. Taylor (quadricep).
Bills Medical Report
OUT: TE Reggie Gilliam (hamstring).
QUESTIONABLE: S JaQuan Johnson (ankle) and OT Ty Nsekhe (groin).
Game Within the Game
The Patriots are eliminated from playoff contention. Cam Newton’s possibly (hopefully) in his final days as their starting quarterback.
With Jarrett Stidham there’s the presumed need to see if anything's there and – since he throws it better than Newton who is not accurate and is exceedingly cautious – his playing might be better for N’Keal Harry, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, etc.
Bills Gotta Stop
Damien Harris (or Sony Michel)
Since Harris may not be out there with his ankle issue, Michel is included here. The running game is New England’s path to winning. Has been all season. Stop the lead back, put the heat on Newton to throw, lather-rinse-repeat.
Patriots Gotta Stop
He’s had a tremendous season and been everything the Bills could have hoped for. Other than Randy Moss in 2007, there have to be other instances of a high-end wideout being dropped into an offense and making as big an impact as Diggs but I can’t think of them.
That Sums It Up Patriots Style
“We just have to make sure that we dictate to them, and not allow them to dictate to us, because we’ve seen on film multiple times where they kind of bear down and put the onus on the offense and dare them to beat you. That’s what we can’t [have] happen. We have to stay on schedule, offensively, not only moving the ball but actually executing more in the red zone and actually scoring touchdowns [instead of] field goals. Can’t just settle for field goals. We just have to make sure that we maximize on scoring opportunities.”
– Cam Newton on the keys to beating the Bills defense.
That Sums It Up Bills Style
"Whoever they play, they are both good quarterbacks, both play at a high level. So we have to prepare ourselves to play our best football is how we look at it. I know (Jarrett Stidham has) only had certain snaps in the regular season, but he looks like a good young player and certainly has the athleticism to go with the position. So we’ve got nothing but a high amount of respect for Jarrett and Cam and their entire program.”
– Sean McDermott, Bills coach, heaping praise on the Patriots' quarterbacking options.
The Winner Is...
Bills 23, Patriots 16